Lauded as one of the most influential American Latinos under 40 and as among the top Latinas in Government and Politics, Maria Teresa (Petersen) Kumar is the founding President & CEO of Voto Latino, a leading national civic engagement organization targeting acculturated American Latino youth. She is also an Emmy-nominated contributor with MSNBC and the host of MSNBC.com’s show, Changing America.
Maria Teresa Kumar owned a successful corporate and political consulting business when she realized that her clients – Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations – were both failing to connect with the fastest-growing demographic in the United States: young Latinos. Believing that Latinos can improve their quality of life as well as contribute to building a healthy, strong America by understanding the electoral process, Maria Teresa co-founded Voto Latino in 2004 to increase this population’s involvement in civic life. Voto Latino, says Maria Teresa, was the first organization to recognize that many US-born Latinos identify themselves as American: “They want to be part of the system, only no one has asked them.” Maria Teresa expanded Voto Latino from a public service announcement campaign to what is now a full-fledged organization that leverages new media, technology, and celebrity spokespeople to mobilize Latino voters, encourage civic participation, and change negative cultural stereotypes.
In the 2008 presidential election, Voto Latino won wide recognition and praise by leveraging social media and celebrity participation in five battleground states, all of which saw Latino voter participation increase 5% or more above the national average. Its innovative initiatives – including launching the first national mobile voter registration campaign – were groundbreaking, and today, Voto Latino is expanding its civic engagement to include issue based advocacy such as green jobs, education, and healthcare.
A widely sought-after political analyst, Maria Teresa appears regularly as a commentator on several programs including HardBall with Chris Matthews and Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough. She is also a frequent guest on such media outlets as NPR and Telemundo, a frequent opinion writer for national publications, and a widely sought-after speaker at major international conferences.
Kumar has been named by Fast Company as among the most 1000 Creative Minds in Business Worldwide for her unique use of technology, media and celebrity to make transformative change and mobilizing the fastest growing group of Americans. In 2013, Elle named her one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Washington, DC. A dynamic community leader, Maria Teresa was named by Hispanic Business as among the 100 most influential Latinos in America.
Maria Teresa is a recipient of numerous leadership awards including from The White House Project, Imagen Foundation, and the New York Legislature. Last year, Washington Life magazine placed Maria Teresa on the cover of their issue highlighting the most influential Washingtonians under 40. She is a Council of Foreign Relations term member, an Ambassador Swanee Hunt Prime Mover Fellow, a Women’s Media Center Fellow and a Woodrow Wilson Public Policy International Affairs Fellow. Maria Teresa received a Master in Public Policy degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a Bachelor degree in International Relations from the University California at Davis.